ACC: Brian Underwood

Atlantic Division spring previews

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
9:00
AM ET
For some, it might feel like the season just ended, but for others -- like Duke, Maryland and Boston College, which didn't get to play in a bowl game -- spring ball can't get here fast enough. The Eagles kick off spring practices in the ACC on Saturday, so today we'll take a quick look at the main storylines for each team in the conference heading into the spring:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring practice start date: Feb. 18
Spring game: March 31 (1 p.m. ET)

What to watch:
  • Yet another offensive transition. Doug Martin will be the Eagles’ fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons, including Kevin Rogers, who took a medical leave of absence early last year and never returned, and Dave Brock, who replaced Rogers. Martin said he is looking for a physical downhill running game, wants to increase the tempo and add some no-huddle elements.
  • The return of running back Montel Harris. The ACC’s leading rusher in 2010 missed most of last season with a knee injury, but he is expected to return for spring ball. How healthy and durable he is remains a question, but he’s still aiming to break a 33-year-old ACC rushing record.
  • Who will replace All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly? It’s an open competition as Kuechly is the only linebacker departing. Sean Duggan was his backup last year, but Steele Divitto put in a lot of work this offseason on his own time.
CLEMSON

Spring practice start date: March 7
Spring game: April 14 (4 p.m. ET)

What to watch:
  • The rebuilding efforts up front. Clemson has to replace three starters on both the offensive and defensive lines. On defense, Malliciah Goodman is the only starter returning on the line, and he’ll be one of the candidates to replace the production of end Andre Branch, but Corey Crawford will be the next in line at the position.
  • The defensive transition under first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables. After giving up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, Dabo Swinney fired Kevin Steele and hired Venables. How quickly will he be able to make a difference and will everyone buy in?
  • The linebackers. This is the year that the outstanding linebackers in the 2011 recruiting class will finally have their chance to shine. Venables is also the linebackers coach, and he’ll have a young, talented group to work with. The lineup of the future should include Stephone Anthony, Lateek Townsend and Tony Steward, all top 100 players coming out of high school.
FLORIDA STATE

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Maturation of the offensive line. FSU started four freshmen in the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, and those players will be expected to continue their improvement this spring. The most important question is who will replace the top two tackles from a year ago in Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko.
  • The kicking game. Punters aren’t usually in the spotlight, but that wasn’t the case at FSU, where All-American Shawn Powell had an impact on every game. Finding a replacement for him this offseason will be a priority.
  • The running backs. Chris Thompson, who broke his back last year, is expected to return this spring, and has been cleared for the most part, but the coaching staff isn’t likely to push him. Devonta Freeman will be the main man, but there are plenty of other candidates to emerge -- if, of course, the offensive line figures things out.
MARYLAND

Spring practice start date: March 10
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback drama. Maryland’s two-quarterback storyline will continue this spring -- if, of course, Danny O’Brien decides to remain at Maryland instead of transferring. There has been much speculation about his future, but for now, the staff expects him to be limited this spring as he continues to recover from a broken arm. C.J. Brown should get the most reps.
  • An overhaul of schemes. Maryland hired a new offensive coordinator in Mike Locksley and a new defensive coordinator in Brian Stewart. How quickly the Terps buy into their systems and philosophies will be critical in turning around last year’s 2-10 record.
  • The running backs. This is a position where a true freshman could earn some playing time this year, but standout recruit Stefon Diggs won’t be on campus in time to compete this spring. Meanwhile, Justus Pickett returns, along with Brandon Ross, who redshirted last year. Wes Brown (who played at Good Counsel with Diggs) could also compete for major playing time when he arrives for summer camp.
NC STATE

Spring practice start date: March 23
Spring game: April 21 (1 p.m. ET)

What to watch:
  • Who will emerge as dependable linebackers. With Audie Cole and Terrell Manning gone, this position is a big question mark for the Wolfpack. Cole was the team’s leading tackler each of the past two seasons, and Manning was one of the defense’s most disruptive players last year.
  • The new go-to for Glennon. With T.J. Graham gone, NC State turns to a young group of receivers. Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood return, but there are several unheralded players who have a chance to make names for themselves by emerging as a go-to player for quarterback Mike Glennon.
  • The running game. NC State returns four of five starters on the offensive line, but will Mustafa Greene return in time for the spring? When he does, the Pack will have another new running backs coach, who has yet to be announced. NC State had the No. 109 rushing offense in the country last year. Greene would be a big boost.
WAKE FOREST

Spring practice start date: March 1
Spring game: April 14 (1 p.m. ET)

What to watch:
  • The revamped offensive line. The Deacs have to replace four starters up front. Coach Jim Grobe has played only one true freshman there in 11 years. He has several redshirt freshmen and sophomores who are expected to fill in.
  • The next playmakers. Wake Forest is thin at running back (Josh Harris returns, but has a history of hamstring injuries), the Deacs lose two starting wideouts -- including record-setter Chris Givens -- their top two tight ends and 2011 leading rusher Brandon Pendergrass.
  • Solidifying the secondary. The Deacs have to replace starting free safety Josh Bush and starting strong safety Cyhl Quarles. There is still plenty of talent at cornerback, but the safety position is thin.

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